Biden Meets With Russian Oppositionists & Rights Advocates

US Vice President Joe Biden. Source: Kasparov.ruRepresentatives of the Russian opposition and human rights advocates met with US Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday to discuss civil rights violations, electoral fraud, and other issues plaguing Russian politics and society, Interfax reports.

Vladimir Ryzhkov of the People’s Freedom Party said Biden was interested in Russian media censorship and the problems faced by opposition parties in registering to participate in elections.

Ryzhkov and fellow oppositionists Boris Nemtsov and Garry Kasparov told the vice president that sanctions should be imposed against Russian civil servants who have grossly violated human rights, including the people responsible for the death of Hermitage Capital Management lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and those involved in the prosecution of jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Other oppositionists at the meeting included Yabloko party leader Grigory Yavlinsky, Right Cause leader Leonid Gozman, Communist Party representative Nina Ostanina and A Just Russia representative Oksana Dmitrieva.

In discussing Russia’s domestic political situation, Yavlinsky pointed out that the most fundamental difficulties have been known for a long time – in particular, the lack of important democratic procedures, Yabloko’s press service told

Yavlinsky said it was of upmost importance to solve the problem of how to replace the system created back in the ’90s – a much more far-reaching and difficult task than simply making personnel changes in the government. Moreover, the problem could only be resolved by Russian society, which needs to rely on its own strength more than anything else in this long and difficult effort, he said.

Biden also met with Russian human rights activists at an earlier meeting.

Memorial human rights center head Oleg Orlov told RIA Novosti that “questions about human rights and democratic development in Russia were seriously raised at the meeting.” Prominent rights activists Lev Ponomarev and Lyudmila Alexeyeva, he said, spoke about human rights abuses in Russia’s jails and the problems surrounding the organization of elections in the country.

Civil Assistance committee representative Svetlana Gannushkina “raised the topic of migration, which is a problem for both of our countries, and also talked about the commission represented by [US presidential assistant Michael] McFaul and [Kremlin ideologist Vladislav] Surkov,” Orlov said, referring to the US-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission.

The group also discussed the importance of observing human rights in the midst of the war on terrorism. “I spoke about human rights violations in the war on terrorism by both of our countries… Biden agreed with all of this,” Orlov went on.

An important signal for the rights advocates, he said, was when Biden said that advancing democracy, observing human rights and organizing free and fair elections were important to the US in regards to Russia’s chances of joining the World Trade Organization.

“[Biden] said that for Russia to enter the WTO, [the US] Congress would have to vote to annul the Jackson-Vanik amendment,” Orlov said. “Congress’s vote is only going to be positive if Russia advances fair elections and the establishment of democracy.”

The vice president also met with Yevgeniya Chirikova, leader of the Movement in Defense of the Khimki Forest. Chirikov explained the problems with the construction of the planned Moscow-St. Petersburg highway, which would cut through the forest, and Biden promised to raise the issue in talks with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. He also awarded Chirikova with the prestigious International Women of Courage Award, which the US State Department says “recognizes women around the globe who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for women’s rights and empowerment, often at great personal risk.”